Amid frayed tempers and flared nostrils over the planned christening of a war ship after two dead commandos, there’s no denying that strong and steady relations between Singapore and Indonesia had been nurtured up to the level where the peoples of the two nations can even address each other as “Pak” and “Ibu” , which means “Pop or Mom” —– honorifics which are actually terms of respect in Malay or Singapore’s erstwhile National Language.

Indonesia felt justified to hero worship by naming a navy frigate after the two men, who were executed after being found guilty in Singapore for their bombing spree 40 years ago that claimed several lives and left scores badly injured — all civilians. Singapore felt aggrieved that the two Indonesian military men had to be glorified for their misdeeds, which is by today’s reckoning are really acts of terrorism.

Jakarta deems the men as heroes for sacrificing their lives by following orders to place bombs in Singapore, which was then a part of Malaysia — a coalition of Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore that was violently opposed by the then Soekarno regime. But Singapore reckons otherwise, which is understandable because the cold hard facts show that the two men’s actions were terrorism and not heroism. There were anti-Singapore riots in Jakarata after the Lion Citydenied the two clemency despite personal appeals by their Government and other well meaning sources.

But over time as the painful wounds suffered by the two sides — each with bitter memories, one of executed solders and the other over the senseless murders of innocent civilians —- began to heal especially after the special gesture by then Singapore PM Lee Kuan Yew who visited the soldiers’ graves in Indonesia where he sprinkled flowers upon them, the matter had rested in peace. Relations between the two nations were nurtured and bettered. If the ties during the Sukarto-Lee Kuan Yew era were good, the continuously growing friendship between Indonesia and Singapore in the current LHL-SBY watch is even better…..until the sudden jolt from the past this week.

It is certainly difficult for either country to accept each other’s action since both have good reasons to do so. But given the latest comments from the Indonesian Foreign Minister that his country had no ill intent against Singapore over its decision to hero worship the two soldiers, and that Indonesia continues to value its friendship with Singapore, it may useful for both sides to take a step back each, as they would in the popular Dangdut dance!

Instead of naming a navy ship after the two soldiers, perhaps Jakarta can name them after a military hospital which is a place of healing. Singapore can do its part by providing military doctors and equipment to the Indonesian hospital in a friendly exchange programme.

I hope the two sides will dance on!

Wwepee Veerasak

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